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Irish_book_pile“Just… six…. weeks” Sinead whispered. Her horrified expression told of santa letters requesting all sorts of elusive items, festivity mania and the pressure to conform to the popular ideal of Christmas time. I nodded sympathetically. My hairdresser told me two days ago that she had secured her little boy’s Christmas present in June, such was the demand for the particular item. We have no santa believers in our immediate household. I’m grateful to be excused from the mad rush to hunt down the latest new-fangled, must-have, super-sonic gadget, for which the marketing industry has worked offspring into a frenzy. Our extended family has gone so far as to impose a no-present policy for the last few festive seasons. We do however break the rules a little for smaller family members that still hold faith in the industrious elves that churn out toys in the north pole.

I’m not going to go all humbug and push for pressie abstinence. I’m all for the spirit of giving but choosing items that are locally-sourced, sustainably produced and send little or no waste to landfill seems like the most sensible way to approach it. Difficult I know when little Tommy has his heart set on that plastic ride-on tractor economically produced in Asia. I always think there’s nothing like receiving or giving a good book. Even if not produced locally, a book has a long lifespan (sometimes generations) and can be passed on until it becomes tatty to the point of illegibility. At that stage it should decompose nicely. Some folk disagree with the felling of trees for the production of paper but I would argue that the paper industry has long since pulled up its socks. Forests grown for paper production are now sustainable managed. In fact the whole industry relies on continual planting and growing of trees, offsetting considerable amounts of carbon.

I love reference books. Any that cover nature, cooking, gardening, herbal remedies, foraging, design and illustration will always capture my attention. There are that many great books in my collection I would be waxing lyrical ’til the cows come home to cover all my favourites. So I have narrowed my selection here to themes covered in the blog and to books whose authors I have personally met in recent times. Here we go:

ZoeDevlin_TrevorSargent_books

The Wildflowers of Ireland is a conveniently sized field guide to wild flowers of the Irish countryside. Written and photographed by the lovely Zoe Devlin, it’s a terrific accessory for an outdoor stroll. It’s my go-to reference for identifying unfamiliar species or confirming the lineage of those that I’m unsure about. I met Zoe on one of her amazing and informative wildflower walks.

Trevor’s Kitchen Garden is the work of multi-talented, friend and neighbour, Trevor Sargent. This detailed growing guide draws on his 30 years of organic gardening. As well as practical growing instruction Trevor shares fascinating facts and words of wisdom making it an invaluable companion for anyone who grows, or aspires to grow, their own food.

While on the subject of growing your own, I have to include Grow, Cook, Eat to my list of recommended reading. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic and inspiring Michael Kelly. Michael, founder of GIY  (Grow it yourself) has compiled oodles of seasonal recipes and interspersed them with useful tips on how to grow your own ingredients. A very attractive volume and a useful reference for tending your veg patch through out the year.

GIY_SusanJaneWhite_books

And last but not least, I’d like to give my recently acquired The Extra Virgin Kitchen a mention. Written by the effervescent Susan Jane White this book is for anyone keen to avoid wheat, dairy or refined sugar. It’s packed with super-healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and taste great. I met Susan at my local healthfood store where a delicious high-octane banana flapjack and her infectious enthusiasm for all things wholesome, won me over. Behind her entertaining, up-beat writing style are nuggets of well-researched, nutritional wisdom- invaluable for anyone who has ever struggled with food intolerances.

If you are already on the hunt for great gifts this festive season you’ll find all of the above and thousands more excellent reads at your local bookstore. It’s as good place as any to start!

 

 

 

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I’ve seen this project so many times on Pinterest that I couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon. I use Sharpie markers for work so there are always have a few to hand and plain ceramics are easy to come by from second hand shops and market stalls. So what was I waiting for- time to get to doodle making!Sharpie_mug_projectSharpie_Markers

After the fun part of decorating my mug I left it for 24 hrs to “set”. Then I placed it in my oven for an hour at 200˚C. I have read some online projects that use a higher temperature – I guess it depends on the ceramic piece you are using. I have also read that the cheaper quality the mug the more permanent the design but couldn’t verify that. It’s important to place your ceramic piece in the cold oven and then switch up the heat so that it doesn’t crack with the sudden change in temperature. Just use a black Sharpie as other colours fade a lot and don’t appear to be as permanent. You can see from my before pic (above) and after picture (below) that the red has faded to a very light pinky brown after baking. I switched the oven off and let the piece cool down completely before removing. The mug is definitely wash proof but I would be nervous to put in a dishwasher and would avoid all abrasive pads on the design.

It’s a great project for personalising presents for friends and family or even for updating some of your own pieces to give them a new lease of life. Did I mention how much fun it is?

Illustrated mug

The mug is a present for my mum to thank her for all the lovely Beauty of Bath apples and Conference pears that have come from her garden into my kitchen. A token of my appreciation for all the crumbles, stewed and poached fruit that have been consumed in our household over the last few weeks. Thanks mum!

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UPDATE: 3 months later the lovely design looked very raggy despite careful washing. So, I’m disappointed to report that the Sharpie method is not as permanent as I hoped. I also decorated the outside of a teapot and now almost 5 months later it doesn’t look so bad. This method is only really suitable for decorative ceramic pieces or those that only need occasional wipe.

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